Geno’s golden goodness

Countless patrons and celebrities have had their hunger sated thanks to Geno and Joey Vento’s sandwiches.

Photos by Maria Young

Just how far can someone stretch a dream with only $6 to fuel it? That question must have been on the mind of Joey Vento when he opened Geno’s Steaks, 1219 S. Ninth St., in 1966. When the founder died five years ago, son Geno, ever reverent toward his patriarch’s tenacity, took over and has made the answer to that inquiry “As far as your talent will take you.” On Saturday, the second-generation proprietor will mark the landmark sandwich shop’s 50th anniversary through a carnival-themed event abounding in celebrity appearances and musical performances.

“We’re thrilled to thank everyone for 50 fabulous years,” the businessman said Tuesday after fraternizing with morning consumers of his site’s cherished cheesesteaks. “We put our heart into everything we do here, and we know that without our customers, we’d be nothing. This is going to be our way to give back for all of the business we’ve had and the friendships we’ve made.”

For six hours, Vento and his staff will unite food and fun, with Marc Summers, of “Double Dare” and “Unwrapped” fame, serving as the master of ceremonies. The free event will find the mastermind eager to continue to count the community at large as a companion, and he knows that his smile will receive a major workout.

“I’m going to be so entertained just by seeing all the expressions of joy,” the Penn’s Landing resident said of sustaining his immediate connection to Passyunk Square and beloved accord with visitors and admirers, including a who’s who list of famous diners, with the most recent being Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who stopped there Sept. 22. “We’re able to sustain our livelihood because of their patronage. It’s really a no-brainer, then, to appreciate that.”

When the anniversary gathering commences at noon, Vento expects for many of the location’s loyal devotees, some with as many as four decades as order makers, to be in attendance. A customer for 18 years, Carmen Cappello cannot wait to offer a handshake to his hero.

“I’ve never engaged him in a conversation, just a couple pleasantries, but I hope Saturday will be the day,” the resident of the 1300 block of South Eighth Street said in waiting to place his order for a late a.m. example of the gooey goodness that has helped Geno’s Steaks to reach 50. “He’s really been able to take what his father patiently built and make it even more of a treasure. I’m proud of him, and I hope he’s proud of himself.”

“I’ve heard flattering things over the years, and while those comments have been nice, I just see myself as someone who has the determination to do whatever will help our product to stand out,” Vento said. “”The biggest thing to us to quality, and that’s never going to change. I like to think outside of the box, so if an idea comes to mind that I think will help us to show our commitment to great service, I’m going to implement it.”

SUCH DEVOTION TO being diligent was not always a possession on which the respected leader could consistently rely. When he was growing up, “work” seemed like a curse word to him, and he could not always fathom why his father, especially when outside of the shop, could go on and on about his business.

“He was definitely a workaholic and someone who understood the value of sacrifices,” the deceased founder’s only child said of his creator. “All of us here, yours truly and the 30 workers I have, want to make him proud each day.”

A trip to the establishment’s website reveals that Joey Vento actualized his vision with “two boxes of steaks, a few hot dogs, and $6 in his pocket when he turned on the grills at 9th and Passyunk.” It adds that neighboring sites predicted he would not last beyond six months, with his dedication, bred out of working in his own father’s steak shop in the ’40s, carrying the day, or, in this case, thousands of days.

“I was a bit of a late starter,” Geno said, noting that he became highly invested in the place’s success when he turned 17. “Over the years, our approaches differed somewhat because my dad was pretty much old school and I had a different mindset, but no matter what, the emphasis has always been and will always be on presenting everyone with great food options and a chance to feel like they’re a part of our family.”

Joey Vento died of a heart attack Aug. 23, 2011, a loss that intensified not only his son’s admiration for 45 years’ worth of sacrifices but also his belief that the business could be even more of a beacon through communal engagement. Confident in his ability as an owner, Geno Vento also loves to exude conviction as a charitable figure, with cancer and AIDS awareness and prevention programs being beneficiaries of his benevolence and Veterans First and Wounded Warriors, among others, also profiting from his penchant for positivity.

“What you give is what you receive,” he said of his enthusiasm for engendering happiness, which includes letting five couples marry at his storefront. “I take nothing for granted because my worst day could be someone’s best day.”

Along with the commended fare, including roast pork sandwiches and french fries, that will be available, attendees will be able to inspect another point of pride through the military and police department patches that line the exterior wall. As reflections of his father’s respect for those who serve our country dutifully, they mean just as much to Gus Aberdeen as a cheesesteak with fried onions.

“Geno’s a keeper,” the former Delaware County police officer and present resident of the 1600 block of Wharton Street said. “He gets the importance of giving back in numerous ways, and that’s why I keep coming here.”

Saturday’s event, which will include an appearance from 1st District Councilman Mark Squilla, tunes from Tony Pace, Almost Angels, Savannah Jack, The Unexpected Boys, and Go Go Gadjet, hot tracks from DJ Perry, and numerous children’s activities, will go a long way to proving that like his store, Geno’s heart is open 24/7.

“I believe the sky’s the limit,” Vento said of his business, whose products could soon end up in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and New York City, said. “Here’s to at least another 50 years.” SPR

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Countless patrons and celebrities have had their hunger sated thanks to Geno and Joey Vento’s sandwiches.

Photos by Maria Young

Owner Geno Vento is thrilled to oversee his dad’s labor of love.

Photo by Maria Young